Well after my efforts last year – where I was 100% wrong and 100% right (sometimes in the same sentence) here are my tips for the twelve months ahead. I’ll also try to predict some of the more unusual aspects of our sport as I normally do – sackings, court cases, scandals and the like.
Right here goes – eyes down for a full house…
Super League – Despite losing a great head coach in Justin Holbrook, I just can’t see past Saints going back to back winning the league leaders trophy I’m afraid. The rest of the top five (in order) being Wigan, Hull, Salford and Warrington.
Grand Final to be Saints v Wigan with Saints shading it. The Steve Prescott Man of Steel I think Jackson Hastings will go back to back with his new employers. Ma’u third in voting.
Toronto will finish around 7th, but will run a lot of teams off the park when they eventually get to play some games in the land of the Maple Leaf. L**ds will struggle again, and be mid-table. You’ll all be happy to hear this, Rovers will finish last – level on points with Huddersfield but with an inferior points difference. London will top the Championship table and come straight back up.
Challenge Cup – I fancy us, I really do. Mahe it must be remembered has NEVER lost a Challenge Cup tie, and I’m tipping him to score twice in the final, and sensationally win the Lance Todd Trophy too.
NRL – With all the goings on with Latrell Mitchell I can’t see a “threepeat” for the Roosters, and I think that Canberra will win it this year even without Aiden Sezer (and will use backup halfback Sam Williams much more than “The Nose” George Williams). My tip is that Curtis Scott will have a breakout season after signing from Melbourne.
My Top Eight is Canberra, Roosters, Melbourne, Parramatta, Bunnies, Manly, Canterbury, Wests.
The Titans will improve this year under Holbrook, and I cant see them finishing last – it’ll be another season of frustrations for Panthers (sorry Dan) and Knights fans, but it’ll be the Dragons that finish stone dead last.
Grand Final to be Raiders Vs Eels (who Qualify against the odds from the lower reaches of the 8) with the Raiders winning comfortably.
Origin – A tough one to predict this year as the key first game is on neutral territory in Adelaide. Whoever wins that one is likely to kick on and win their home game, and with game two in Sydney, I can’t look past the blues to win again. 2-1, with Queensland winning a “dead rubber” last game.
Sackings – This year I’m going to stick with my usual SURELY this is the year that Steve Kearney goes at the Warriors? With the recent hiring of Nathan Brown to the backroom staff, I think they’re planning for an early to mid-season coaching change. They’ll move because St George will sack Paul McGregor, and they’ll be after Nathan Brown too.
In Super League, Tony Smith will survive until the end of the season despite Rovers’ baffling signings and terrible form, ultimately leaving when relegation is confirmed on the last day of the season. I’m tipping Shaun Wane to make a coaching comeback, at L**ds when they make a change late in the season when they realise that the top five is out of their reach.
Random predictions – Well now that he’s gone from the England set up, Wayne Bennett won’t continue to make a mockery of our international game, by still refusing to watch any SL games, allowing his assistants to pick squads, and digging up deceased Grandmothers of bang average second string NRL players, but there’s still going to much more scandal this year, what’s new? The Jack De Belin case is due to hit the headlines very soon again, and from what I’ve read he’ll be lucky to avoid a lengthy jail term, never mind make a playing comeback, with St George practically giving up on that prospect by signing Trent Merrin back from L**ds.
The NRL will blink after about 10 rounds and ditch this ridiculous 20/40 innovation. How the hell you can reward a team that’s struggling to find their way out of their own 20 thanks to brilliant defence from their opponents is beyond me.
There’ll be much more player movement mid season than usual, with a bunch of disaffected squad players moving down the league to join the likes of the Titans, Knights and Dragons.
Finally, what of Hull FC this year? – One word. OFFLOADS. It’ll be insane this year – we’ve signed the best offloading meter making players on offer. Our second phase and backing up will need to be absolutely spot on, otherwise we’ll be prime targets for interceptions and ball stealing. Our spine of 1, 6, 7 and 9 will need to become the ultimate support players. If we can do that, we’ll be right up there, and also be a VERY exciting attacking side, which we haven’t really been for years. Ma’u will be immense – he doesn’t know any other way except 100% all the time, he’s a lunatic.
My main worry is completely opposite to my usual worry. I always worry about injuries exposing a thin squad – that isn’t going to happen this time around. Our strength in depth means we’re going to have a hell of a lot of very good players missing out week in week out. How we manage them is going to be key to keeping our season on track. We’ve genuinely got five wingers I’d be happy to pick in any given game, and four centres too. I reckon we’ll see some players offloaded during the season from our outside back ranks, just to balance the squad.
Whatever happens, it’ll be a black and white rollercoaster. Our club is more professional than ever these days, the pre season videos and PR from the media team have been great. We need to match that on the field and become true leaders of the sport. On the bright side – with his recent incarceration, Bobby Bubbles won’t be the entertainment at any more Rovers events…
Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.
Rich – Twitter @pommyrich